French Spaetzle with Honey Mushroom Gravy, Inspired by Germany

Spaetzle with a protein trifecta: mushrooms, (veg) bacon and walnuts
As you may have gathered, my husband and I were in Germany for Oktoberfest two weeks ago. I only took part in some of the insanity that is the actual Oktoberfest. I spent some time shopping for inspiration for my outerwear line (and for myself) and exploring Munich's city center.

Clocks on towers around Marienplatz

As usual, I returned with more photos of the local produce market than anything else. I have to admit, I was quite excited about the stereotypical German sausages and pretzels, but whatever I tried was not all that. The real stars, aside from the popular drunk-sustainence of wiesn hendl (crispy roast chicken), were the mushrooms. I had an amazing bowlful of chanterelles and boletus (steinpilze) in cream sauce at Der Pschorr, where my husband had a fresh pasta with seared boletus that actually tasted and chewed exactly like scallops.

Wiesn Hendl at the Hacker tent at Oktoberfest
Chanterelles and Boletus in cream sauce at Der Pschorr

Growing up picking wild mushrooms like chanterelles with my parents, I have a particular appreciation for fungi. I've never seen so many varieties as I did in Munich. Chanterelles are scarce and expensive here in New York - and this was a particularly horrible year for them - but in Munich you can buy them on the street corner, right next to strawberries and peaches. There's just mountains of them, among other varieties I've never seen before.

Mountains of chanterelles on every corner - these in Viktualienmarkt
Boletus. I've only seen cartoons of puffy mushrooms like these.
I can't believe we've already been back for two weeks. I guess we lost one week to being sick with colds from flying so much and being in damp cold weather for a week (not to mention drinking insane amounts of beer). Then there's the work that piled up, and our anniversary, my birthday, and trying to re-instate the workout regimen.

Amidst the madness, I managed to take a day off yesterday, and I happened to make it to the Union Square greenmarket. I like going on the weekdays when there are different vendors there and just slightly less people. One of my favorite things in life at the moment is discovering a new food at the market, taking it home and learning about it while figuring out how to cook with it. I was overwhelmed with new items and inspiration yesterday. Aside from the usual mouth-wateringly handsome heirloom tomatoes, I brought home several new things to play with: flat "string-less" green beans, okra, watermelon radishes, rose finn apple potatoes, and honey mushrooms.

I connected with the mushroom man immediately. I'd never seen him at the market before - he was from Honey Hollow Farms in Schoharie County up North in the Catskills (I believe it was Michal Hoffman, if my research is correct - although I'm a shy one so I didn't ask). His table wasn't huge - but it outshined the usual lame-o baskets of Shiitake, Oyster and boring Cremini mushrooms I usually see. These were different - all laid out in little half-pints and quarts across the table making their unique "honey" color and well-defined gills stand out. Hotness. I love a new mushroom.

1 pint ($5 worth) of Honey Mushrooms from Honey Hollow Farms
The honey mushroom is actually a parasitic fungus, growing on and even killing the trees it lives on. But to me, it looked delicious and new, and the man who I believe is Mr. Hoffman told me they are best sauteed with olive oil and then added to any number of dishes from crepes, rissotto, pasta, in cream sauce, etc. Unfortunately it was his last day at the market until Spring, when he'll be back with Morels.

I guess this is the French version of Spaetzle.
In honor of the wonderful mushrooms, and the vegetarian spaetzle dishes we had in Munich, I decided to make a dish combining the two on this rainy evening. I actually found French spaetzle in Food Emporium, which is much longer and thinner, almost like a fat, short spaghetti-like egg noodle. I let them boil a little less than 20 minutes and the texture was al dente, which I thought was perfect. My husband was skeptical at first, thinking we were basically going to have mac & cheese style spaetzle. He was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying the meal was, especially with the heirloom tomato and radish salad inspired by our trip to Eataly.

Various small heirloom tomatoes and mild watermelon radish tossed with extra virgin olive oil and good quality balsamic vinaigrette, fresh basil and a bit of pink himalayan sea salt.
The finished creation: spaetzle with mushroom gravy

French Spaetzle with Honey Mushroom Gravy
about 4 servings

1-1/2 C Vegetable Stock
½ C onion, cut into large pieces
1 clove garlic, smashed
Stems from 1 pint of Honey Mushrooms

1 Pint of fresh Honey Mushrooms, sliced, stems reserved for stock
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T Margarine
1 T Flour
¼ C Dry White Wine
¾ C shallots, sliced
¼ C walnut pieces, toasted
4 slices vegetarian bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
Dried or fresh chopped parsley (about 1T)
Salt & Pepper

Dried French style Spaetzle, (250g) cooked to package directions

1.    Combine vegetable stock, onion, garlic and mushroom stems in a small saucepan and simmer while you prepare everything else. This will give the stock a richer flavor.

2.    Heat olive oil in a skillet over med-high heat and add the garlic, cooking 1 minute. Add mushrooms and sauté for 4-5 minutes, season with a bit of salt, and remove from the pan using a slotted spoon so the juice stays behind.

3.    Melt butter in the skillet and add flour. Stir together and add the wine, stirring until smooth.

4.    From the stock pan, remove all the items from the liquid using a slotted spoon or straining into a bowl. Add the stock to the skillet, along with the shallots. Simmer about 15 minutes over low-medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more.

5.    Meanwhile, cook spaetzle to package directions, about 17 minutes. Drain and pour into a large bowl

6.    Cook veg bacon in the microwave, about 2 minutes until crispy. Break into small pieces. Toast the walnuts.

7.    Pour the mushroom gravy over the spaetzle, add about ¾ of the bacon. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley, tossing together. Serve topped with bacon crumbles and nuts .

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